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Final choice of Governor General should have been by all federal party leaders or, even better all party leaders across Canada

GG is a key guardian of Canada’s democracy – must be fully independent and impartial, should not have been handpicked by PM through biased process

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, as part of its Democratic Head Campaign which is supported by thousands of Canadians, Democracy Watch criticized Prime Minister Trudeau’s failure to send the shortlist of candidates for next Governor General (GG) to at least federal opposition party leaders or, even better, party leaders in all legislatures across Canada (given the GG appoints lieutenant governors), to ensure a fair choice for GG.

A survey of 1,601 Canadians in February 2021 found that 91% of people surveyed, of all types and from all political parties, support changing from the current system where the Prime Minister alone chooses the Governor General to having a committee of MPs choose the Governor General.

While the choice of Mary Simon may be good (although she is not fluent in French), like all the other Officers of Parliament, the Governor General (GG) must be independent of the PM because s/he makes many key decisions about the operations of Parliament and the government, and so the PM should not be choosing the GG alone because it taints the position with partisanship.

PM Trudeau rigged the selection of the Governor General (even more than Prime Minister Harper did) by setting up a façade of an Advisory Panel, co-chaired by his friend and Cabinet appointee Dominic LeBlanc, with every other member of the Panel also appointed by Trudeau. The Panel vetted a short list of candidates, and LeBlanc very likely ensuring that the candidate that Trudeau favoured was on the short list.

Instead, to democratize the selection of the GG, and every other federal good government watchdog, Trudeau should have used a fully independent committee (with members approved by all federal party leaders) to conduct a public, merit-based search for a shortlist of qualified candidates. Then, all federal party leaders should have reviewed the short list and approve the choice of GG.

Even better, given that the GG appoints the Lieutenant Governor of each province, Prime Minister Trudeau should have sent the shortlist of nominees to the party leaders of each legislature and have them rank the nominees. The GG would be the person who receives the most votes from this ranked ballot vote.

Prime Minister Trudeau also failed to take a step to Canadianize the selection of the Governor General by not requesting that Queen Elizabeth approve of the person chosen through the process. The Queen does have to approve the person formally, but if the PM had not requested the approval, and the Queen agreed to his nominee, then a new constitutional convention would have been established that Canada chooses its own Head of State. This would be a significant step toward full independence by Canada.

Both of these changes to the Governor General’s appointment process could have been made by the PM alone – no changes to any law, or Canada’s Constitution, were needed.

“Given how important it is for the Governor General to be independent of the Prime Minister and impartial, especially in a minority government situation, Prime Minister Trudeau should have involved opposition parties in choosing the Governor General,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Ph.D. student at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, It would be even better to involve party leaders from across Canada given that the GG appoints the provincial lieutenant governors.

“Prime Minister Trudeau should have also told the Queen who Canada has chosen as Governor General, and not asked her approval, and if she had accepted that as the new protocol it would be clear that Canada chooses its own head of state,” said Conacher.

As well, Democracy Watch called on federal party leaders in the House of Commons to agree on public, written rules for a minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want. In England, Australia and New Zealand, political party leaders and MPs agreed years ago to clear, public rules so what happens to call an election, and after and in-between elections, is fair for all the parties, and for voters. Most countries in the world also have clear, public rules.

“Nobody knows for sure what an unwritten rule says, and that’s why Britain, Australia, New Zealand and most other countries have written down their key constitutional rules,” said Conacher. “It’s clearly in the public interest that Canada’s rules be written down to stop abuses of power by the PM and Cabinet, including calling a snap election, that violate the rights of Parliament and the democratic will of the majority of voters.”

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Head Campaign and Stop PM/Premier Abuses Campaign